The Adderall Shortage Is No Joke: Here Are 7 Ways To Cope, From An Editor With ADHD
Last month, the FDA announced a nationwide shortage1 of instant-release amphetamine mixed salts (commonly referred to as the brand name Adderall). These supply chain issues may take a while to resolve, with the latest reports predicting shortages that continue into 2023.
Medication is a critical tool for individuals with ADHD; it helps them navigate daily activities, complete personal and professional tasks, and cope with sensory and emotional challenges. As someone with ADHD, I understand how scary this shortage can be. Finding the right medication and dosage is no small feat, and losing that tool can be debilitating.
What to do if you're directly affected.
Unfortunately, there isn't a direct substitute for Adderall. Even trying another medication commonly prescribed to treat ADHD (e.g., Concerta, Vyvanse, Ritalin) can come with intense side effects. The process requires a lot of trial and error and doctor appointments before finding a brand and dose that works—a process I'd be willing to bet you know intimately and aren't eager to repeat. Considering some people have gone days, weeks, or even months without their medication, time is of the essence.
I wasn't diagnosed with ADHD until earlier this year at 26, so I picked up quite a few coping mechanisms over the years that helped improve my focus and concentration without medication in school and at work. And I've gotta be honest—the advice I've seen doctors and reporters give in recent articles totally sucks.
For example: One article from Harvard Health Publishing even linked to a list of coping mechanisms that include "being realistic with your time" and "putting off procrastination" by simply adding procrastination to your to-do list to "fool yourself into actually starting your work." If only it were that easy…
Below, I've put together some science-backed, neurodivergent-tested habits and tools to help you cope during this difficult time. They certainly don't replace medication, but they're relatively quick and just might be the extra dose of neurohacking you need to make your day a little bit easier.
7 ways to help manage ADHD symptoms naturally:
Get early morning light.
Getting outside first thing in the morning helps synchronize your circadian rhythm, which is regulated by neurotransmitters dopamine2 and norepinephrine3, aka noradrenaline. Stimulant medications (like Adderall) boost the availability of dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain to help improve your attention and focus.
By starting your day with natural light, you're not only regulating your circadian rhythm (which is beneficial for digestion, immune health, sleep, etc.) but also getting a dose of key neurotransmitters that folks with ADHD have notoriously low levels of.
Ideally, you should do this within the first hour of waking, but take it from me—if you don't head straight outside after opening your eyes, you're probably going to miss that one-hour window.
Here are some quick tips that help me keep this habit:
- Charge your phone away from your bed (e.g., across the room or on the kitchen counter) so you don't get sucked into notifications, social media, and news first thing in the morning.
- Don't underestimate the dropping temperature if it's getting cold where you live! Gather winter accessories (a hat, scarf, gloves) and any other cozy clothes or blankets you might need before you go to bed.
- Set your clothes out the night before so you can go through the motions of getting ready in the morning (before your brain has time to protest).
- Step outside without sunglasses (this is key!) and put a timer on for 10 to 15 minutes.
Start your day with a cold shower.
Head inside because now it's time for a cold shower! In a study published in the European Journal of Applied Physiology, researchers found that immersion in cold water (i.e., 57 degrees Fahrenheit) raised participants' noradrenaline and dopamine levels by 530% and 250%4, respectively!
A cold shower won't give you the full breadth of benefits as an ice bath, but I've been taking cold showers consistently (every other day or so) for the past few weeks, and it makes a world of difference for my motivation and mood. I do everything I need to do in hot water, then turn down the temperature and set a timer for two minutes. I recommend starting with 30 to 60 seconds and exposing your limbs to the cold one by one before putting your head and the rest of your body under the faucet.
Take a nootropic supplement.
With so many nootropic supplements available on the market today, finding a temporary replacement while you wait for this shortage to end is a no-brainer.
To kick-start your search, check out mindbodygreen's roundup of the best focus and concentration supplements and look for these key ingredients (many of which improve neurotransmitter production):
- Caffeine & L-theanine: Caffeine has been clinically shown to improve focus and attention, while L-theanine helps mellow out some of caffeine's more stimulating effects and get you in a "flow state." (Learn more about how these powerful plant compounds impact people with ADHD here.)
- Omega-3s: Marine omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA have demonstrated benefits for many different facets of cognitive health—including reducing ADHD symptoms5, according to one randomized controlled trial from Neuropsychopharmacology. Another review found that children and adolescents are commonly deficient in omega-3s6, giving further cause for high-quality fish oil supplementation.
- B vitamins: According to a 2016 BJPsych Open study, individuals diagnosed with ADHD had lower concentrations7 of riboflavin (B2), vitamin B6, and folate (B9). These essential vitamins play important roles in cognitive function, stress management, mood regulation, and synthesizing a number of neurotransmitters—including dopamine and norepinephrine.
- Vitamin D: This essential vitamin has been found to promote emotional well-being by influencing serotonin production8 and dopamine regulation9. Unfortunately, children and adolescents with ADHD have lower vitamin D levels10 than healthy children, per a 2018 meta-analysis from Advances in Nutrition. If you're in need of mood support, consider a daily vitamin D supplement to promote healthy mood and neurotransmitter levels.
Play binaural beats, brown noise, and other focus-enhancing music.
A 2017 Psychological Research review found that binaural beats can help enhance attentional focus11 by increasing gamma wave activity—essentially, they increase your brain's attention span and help you process information. I like to start my writing sessions with at least 5 to 10 minutes of binaural beats to get my brain in the zone and ready to focus. Neuroscientist Andrew Huberman, Ph.D., recommends listening to 40 Hz binaural beats 30 minutes before needing to focus, which could also be something to experiment with.
However, there's scientific value for different "colored" noises as well: In a 2019 Complementary Therapies in Medicine review, researchers suggest that white noise can be beneficial for individuals with ADHD—particularly for improving auditory symptoms12.
Recently, brown noise has also become popular among ADHD online communities, but we don't have scientific studies demonstrating its benefits or explaining if it's more effective than white noise. Personally, I like using brown noise when I'm really trying to concentrate because it delivers a steady low-frequency sound free that seems to drown out interrupting thoughts.
If you've tried all of these options and still can't seem to summon enough motivation or concentration, turn on instrumental music from your favorite movie, show, or video game. (I'm partial to Marvel film scores that help me channel my inner Avenger.)
A list of my go-to focus playlists on Spotify, for your listening pleasure:
Set boundaries with phone usage.
I call my phone a "suction zone" because it's far too easy to get sucked in and lose track of time. Our brains seek dopamine more than the average person, and digital technology depends on its dopamine-inducing effects to keep you coming back for more.
Try these tips to ensure digital tech doesn't completely derail your day:
- Use your phone's setting to your advantage—turn on Focus or Airplane Mode, set app time limits (and don't ignore them!).
- Consider deleting time-sucking apps from your phone (e.g., Instagram, YouTube, TikTok, Twitter) so you have to redownload them and log in again (a hassle your brain likely won't want to deal with, thanks to the lack of dopamine).
- Use the "out of sight, out of mind" principle to your advantage—place or lock your phone in a drawer or safe (like the kSafe) so you aren't able to access it.
- Give your phone to a roommate, partner, parent, or sibling to keep until you've completed your desired task.
Move your body to avoid overstimulation.
If you find yourself stimming, overwhelmed with racing thoughts, or zoning out because of sensory overload, you're likely overstimulated. Whenever I point out that my partner (who also has ADHD) is unconsciously and aggressively shaking his leg, he often explains that his ADHD "needs somewhere to go."
Movement is the best way to shake out some of that nervous ADHD energy. It doesn't have to be long—just do some jumping jacks, go for a quick run, or dance it out in your bedroom until you feel those hyperactive jitters go away. Once that energy clears, you'll likely experience renewed mental clarity and a sense of calm that enables you to get back to whatever you were doing before.
Talk to someone about your struggles.
Know that you're far from alone—many people with ADHD are seriously struggling right now as they navigate their daily lives during the Adderall shortage.
For support and guidance through this difficult time, consider finding a therapist or ADHD coach (if you don't have one already). Talk to your neurodivergent peers and family members as well—even if they aren't directly affected by the shortage, they understand the struggles of coping without medication.
If you don't have any close family members or friends that understand your ADHD-related struggles, I encourage you to connect with other people with ADHD in online support groups. (I find the ADHD Women subreddit especially supportive! Bonus: The memes and personal anecdotes are hilariously relatable.)
The sad truth is that society simply wasn't designed for neurodivergent individuals. It's hard enough keeping up with school, work, parenting, and other responsibilities when you have ADHD, but having a tried-and-true tool ripped away from you unexpectedly brings a whole new challenge. Focus on implementing some of these neurohacks and habits to help you cope during this frustrating shortage.
Make sure to have patience and grace for yourself along the way—you're doing the best you can with the brain you were born with! You've got this.
Morgan Chamberlain is a supplement editor at mindbodygreen. She graduated from Syracuse University with a Bachelor of Science degree in magazine journalism and a minor in nutrition. Chamberlain believes in taking small steps to improve your well-being—whether that means eating more plant-based foods, checking in with a therapist weekly, or spending quality time with your closest friends. When she isn’t typing away furiously at her keyboard, you can find her cooking in the kitchen, hanging outside, or doing a vinyasa flow.